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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Death and Burial: An Update

I've had a rough month. With the deaths of my father-in-law, mother, and aunt all occurring within three weeks, I have had to deal with the subjects of death, dying, and burial on a personal level that I haven't experienced before.

I went back and read a few posts that I wrote two years ago when we first kicked off this blog, and decided that they needed an update.

Death and Burial: Body
TL;DR Our bodies are mortal, we will all die one day. What do we do with the mortal remains?

The original article covers methods of dealing with dead bodies, but there is another facet to dying that I need to write about: “Natural causes” deaths have common steps or stages that they progress through. This list is not a schedule; the stages are often jumbled and there is no set sequence.
  • Loss of appetite and thirst. As the body starts to shut down, its energy needs dwindle. The dying person will refuse food and drink because their body isn't calling for it.
  • Fatigue or excessive sleep. With less food (and therefore energy) going into the body, the person may sleep constantly, or at least very often. Sleep may also be sporadic and irregular.
  • Weakness. Again, less energy going in means there is less available for use in moving the body.
  • Confusion or agitation. As the end gets near, the dying person may not recognize or acknowledge people around them. Mumbling and incoherent or nonsensical speech is common, as are fear, panic attacks, and hallucinations.
  • Breathing problems. Labored breathing, interrupted breathing, and phlegm building up in the airways and causing a “rattle” when breathing are all common.
  • Changes in urination. With reduced water intake the kidneys have less to work with, causing the urine output to become dark -- often as dark as tea or coffee. Dropping blood pressure also causes the kidneys to shut down, which will mean less (but more concentrated) urine output.
  • Changes in circulation. As the internal organs shut down, blood flow is concentrated in the brain and torso. Hands and feet may become cold, and near the end of life they will be mottled red/blue/purple or blotchy where they were once pale or gray. This normally appears on the soles of the feet first.

Death and Burial: Mind
TL;DR Our bodies react in specific ways after death.

There's not much I can add to what I originally wrote. When my father-in-law entered hospice care, a team came in and turned off the internal defibrillator built into his pacemaker as part of his DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) advanced directive. Advanced directives are right up there with your Last Will and Testament when it comes to important paperwork: assigning medical decision-making powers and defining what level of advanced life support you want used must be in writing and available if you are unable to communicate.

TL;DR Grief and mourning. We react to the death of others in our own individual ways.

I have seen all forms of grief in the last month. Some people are more accepting of the inevitability of death than others, and their grief is internalized. Denial, anger and depression are common responses, but there is still no set “stages of grief and mourning” that we all have to go through. The “counselors” that demand we all check the boxes on their precious lists deserve to have their pieces of paper shoved where the sun doesn't shine. That's not anger coming from grief; that's anger coming from watching idiots recite a litany that they learned in night school that they have no understanding of.

Supporting each other is vital at these times.
  • If a family member can't go to the funeral, there is no reason to assign blame or derision.
  • Some people don't want to see a loved one after death -- they prefer to remember the deceased as healthy and happy. While I see this as a minor form of denial, I don't have a problem with people trying to avoid extra pain.
  • We all have to deal with death and grief in our own ways. The one exception that I can see is removing someone who is having a psychological melt-down in public. All they are going to do is upset others around them when most of the people there are already upset enough.
Death and Burial: Soul
What happens to the immortal part of us?
I never got around to writing this one because of all of the different versions of the afterlife that are available. This is the subject of a college degree, not a weekly blog post.


Both my mother and my father-in-law where good Christian people, and I am sure they are resting comfortably somewhere, waiting for the rest of us to join them. I wasn't close enough to my aunt to know for sure, but I never heard anything bad about her. I have hope that she is at peace with her God.

I'm glad that my family members are no longer in pain, and have traveled beyond this earthly realm of work, pain, suffering, and death. I am sure that I will meet them again when it is my turn to cross over to a better place, and I look forward to that day, but there is still a hole or two in my heart that will take time to heal.

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